Article at a Glance
• Ninety percent of smokers started smoking when they were just children.
• Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.
• Taking a proactive approach can help you protect your children against this dangerous habit.
Believe it or not, smoking isn’t a habit that most people pick up later in life. In fact, 90 percent of smokers started when they were children. More than 3,900 children become regular smokers each day. And it is a decision that is likely to haunt them later. Since nicotine (a chemical found in tobacco) can be as addictive as cocaine or heroine, quitting isn’t easy.
Not only does smoking cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, it is also the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. And using chewing tobacco carries its own risks. Chewing tobacco can cause oral cancer, nicotine addiction, cardiovascular disease, and gum disease.
No one ever chooses to become addicted to tobacco, but nicotine is so addictive that a person can get hooked on it within days of first trying it. What may start out as experimentation or a way to impress friends can easily turn into a lifelong addiction. Most smokers wish that they had never smoked that first cigarette.
In the short term, smoking can cause throat irritation, coughing, bad breath, hoarseness, decreased athletic performance, shortness of breath, bad skin, stained teeth and clothing, and a greater susceptibility to colds.
Protecting Your Children
You can help keep your children from picking up the habit by teaching them about the risks of tobacco and combating negative messages from peers and the media.
Communicate: It helps to have an open line of communication with your kids. Let them know that there are rules in your family, but they can talk to you about anything. Become a good listener and teach your children how to make their own good decisions.
Start Young: Even very young children can understand the dangers of smoking. Start when they are young and reinforce the message as they get older.
Increase Understanding: It helps to understand why kids start to use tobacco. Most often they do it to emulate a role model, look cool, feel independent, lose weight, act tough, or feel older. Ask your children what they find appealing and unappealing about smoking.
You can combat the attractions of smoking by helping your children see the drawbacks. For example, talk about how much cigarettes cost and how hard it would be to buy cigarettes and still be able to afford the other things they want.
If you see somebody smoking in a movie or on TV, talk about how what the media shows is different from what happens in reality. Avoid the urge to lecture; instead, help your children come to their own good conclusions.
Provide Tools: Give your children the tools they need to combat social pressures. Coach them on ways to say no to smoking that they feel comfortable with. Help them build a positive self-image. Self-confidence is the best protection against peer pressure.
Set Guidelines: Let your children know that smoking is not allowed in your house. Explain that smokers smell bad and that smoking is also bad for everyone else’s health.
Be an Example: If you smoke, now is the time to stop. Children emulate their parents and won’t take your rules against smoking seriously if you smoke. Let your kids become your greatest reason and support system for kicking the habit.
Be Watchful: Watch for the signs of smoking, including bad breath and coughing, and talk to your child about your concerns. Try not to get angry; instead, try to understand your child and help him or her fight the addition. In addition, set up an appointment with your pediatrician, who can offer support, information, and ideas on treatment plans.
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